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25 years later, Facebook helps brothers get new murder trial

Posted at 7:54 PM, Aug 13, 2012

(CNN) — Two Michigan brothers were granted bond Monday after nearly 25 years behind bars for a murder they say they never committed.

Raymond and Thomas Highers, both 46, are now awaiting a new trial, after a chance Facebook encounter uncovered new testimony.

Last month, Wayne County Court Judge Lawrence Talon threw out their life sentences for the 1987 murder of a suspected Detroit drug dealer, and ordered a new trial based on the new testimony.

Under Michigan state law, a judge must review an inmate’s conduct in prison before release, even if the inmate’s conviction is set aside. On Monday, the Highers’ former warden and a clinical psychologist testified on the brothers’ behalf at the bond hearing.

Carol Howes, former warden of the Lakeland Correctional Facility where the brothers were periodically incarcerated, said she believes the Highers brothers are innocent based on her interactions with them.

“I’ve known them for over a decade. I’ve never known them to lie to me about anything,” Howes told CNN. “They have consistently said that they were innocent.”

Clinical psychologist Lyle Danuloff testified that his psychological testing of the brothers “did not indicate any problems with aggression, hostility, or impulse control.”

“They have an enormous family willing to support them and a large group of friends still around even though this all happened so many years ago,” he told CNN.

Judge Talon set each brother’s bond at $10,000 cash but they must post only 10% each to be released, court officials said. Bail had not yet been posted as of Monday afternoon.

“We feel that the bond should have been much higher considering that this is a first-degree murder charge,” said Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“We are currently considering whether to appeal the bond decision,” the spokeswoman said. “We will be appealing the grant of a new trial.”

Court officials said if they are released, the Highers must wear GPS tracking devices until the new trial begins. A pre-trial hearing is set for August 29.

The brothers were granted a new trial after a Facebook post by a former resident of the neighborhood where the brothers had lived led to the discovery of new witnesses who shed doubt on their guilt.

Among the findings, one new witness said he saw “four young African-American men” enter the dealer’s home the night he was murdered. Two of the men were armed and one allegedly fired a shotgun, the witness said.

Unlike the alleged assailants, the two Highers brothers are white.

“The court found that the new evidence we found was reliable and credible,” Raymond Highers’s attorney, Janet Napp, told CNN last week. “These men have proclaimed their innocence all these years and nothing has changed. Finally because of Facebook, witnesses have been discovered.”

The Highers’ defense attorneys were not immediately available for comment on Monday’s bond hearing.